While many people would love to have a seven-week summer holiday, Canadian racer Robert Wickens almost went stir crazy.
Add the fact that the last Formula Renault 3.5 Series weekend before the long break brought only frustration for the 22-year-old and it’s no wonder he can’t wait to get back into his car.
“It’s definitely a bit too long — I mean seven weeks is a bit ridiculous,” said Wickens, who was named a reserve driver with the Marussia Virgin Racing Formula One team in June.
“You don’t lose your touch but it’s just a bit frustrating to be out of the car for so long when you really don’t have to be. I definitely enjoyed my time at home in Canada but, with my reserve driver duties, I was at the F1 races in Germany and Hungary in July.”
Wickens went into the last round in Hungary in late June on a high as the championship leader. In Budapest, he also tested the 2011 Lotus Renault F1 car, his reward for being on the top of the points standings at the halfway point of the season.
Considering the Hungaroring is a track he likes and has always performed well on, Wickens arrived in Budapest looking to stretch his 24-point championship lead.
The promise faded quickly. Wickens, of Guelph, Ont., had a motor blow in the first practice, which put him on his back foot as the weekend began. From there, things went downhill fast.
“It really hurt us and we just lacked a couple tenths all weekend — we were never able to get a good balance in the car,” said Wickens.
“To add insult to injury, my championship rival went ahead and won both of them. This championship rewards wins and I need to go out and get some wins and see what happens.”
Formula Renault runs two races per weekend and uses an F1-style scoring system with drivers getting 25 points for a win.
Despite the frustration, Wickens showed grit in Hungary, finishing fifth in the first race after qualifying 11th on the twisty Hungaroring layout that’s known for making passing difficult. In the second race, he started ninth and climbed to third at the finish, only to be demoted because of a penalty for an unsafe release during his pitstop.
“We were in the box closest to pit exit and I pitted at the same time as the car in front of me on track and they were right next to us,” he said.
“We were first and second boxes at pit exit and he released fractionally before we did. I spoke to the driver after the race and he said he didn’t even have to lift [his foot from the throttle] so clearly it didn’t affect him. I can’t see how it was unsafe.”
The 10-second penalty pushed Wickens from third to seventh in the classification, something that clearly shows how competitive things are in the series.
Wickens left Hungary in second place in the standings with 148 points, trailing his Carlin teammate, Jean Eric Vergne, of France by four points. With six races to go in the season, Estonian driver Kevin Korjus is third with 110 points, nine ahead of fourth place man Alexander Rossi of the U.S.. Spaniard Albert Costa rounds out the top-5 with 100 points.
It was thought that Wickens will be in line for an F1 drive with Marussia Virgin in 2012 if he finishes in the top-3 this season. That may now be in jeopardy after rumours began to swirl following Montreal’s F1 race in June that he also needed to come up with several million dollars to secure the seat.
For now, Wickens said he’s just concentrating on taking home the 2011 Formula Renault title.
“I want to win the championship and hopefully that will give me some leverage toward F1 next year. In terms of me being any closer than I was when I signed as a reserve driver, it’s hard to say. Maybe I am on the radar a bit more but I can’t know for sure,” said Wickens who would not discuss details surrounding the cash he needs for a 2012 F1 ride.
“I am talking to some Canadian companies and they haven’t said no yet, but unfortunately it is quite a feat to come up with the funding to ensure yourself an F1 seat.”
With 50 points up for grabs in each of the three remaining race weekends, it is possible that another driver will make it a three-horse race to the championship, but realistically the title should be a battle between the pair of Carlin drivers.
While Hungary disappointed, Wickens won’t be changing the way he’s approached his season so far as the series heads to the U.K.’s famed Silverstone Circuit this weekend.
“I think there’s a good possibility to have a very strong weekend, and we will go with the same game plan — I am really not going to change what I am doing,” he said.
“You have to be aggressive, especially with the way the European racing is, you really do have to fight for every position. I have a great opportunity in front of me right now, and I just have to keep doing what I am doing.”
IndyCar to hear appeal
After the disaster that was the IndyCar race in New Hampshire on Sunday, the series has scheduled hearings on Aug. 22 to address the protests filed by the Newman-Haas and Chip Ganassi teams regarding the results of the MovethatBlock.com Indy 225.
The race saw five laps deleted from the official record essentially to fix a gargantuan screw-up by race control. The series’ president of competition and operations, Brian Barnhart who also serves as chief steward, allowed the race to go green despite protests from the team that there was too much rain falling for a safe resumption of the action. The decision resulted in a five-car pile-up that put the safety of the drivers in danger.
But the restart also saw Newman-Haas driver Oriol Servia pass late leader Ryan Hunter-Reay before the track went yellow again, which should have made him the winner. Ganassi driver Scott Dixon also looked to have gotten by Hunter-Reay before the caution came out for the final time. The race was red-flagged and ended after the pile up, but five laps were expunged from the record so the series could set the final results by using the order before the ill-fated restart.
Unfortunately, the IndyCar rulebook has a clause that essentially gives the series the leeway to ignore any rule, so there’s little hope the decisions in question will be overturned.